MEISHAN 15 catered the city from the south and went up the clean stone pavements into the heart of the city. It was not a very big town, but it was comfortable for a place of residence. A poet of the twelfth century reported that the streets were 'kept very clean and that Meishan was famous for its lotus flowers in May and June. The cultivation of the lotus flower had grown into an industry, for dealers from the neighbouring cities obtained their lotus flowers from this place. As one went up the streets, one passed many ponds on the roadside covered with these flowers, whose fragrance filled the air. At Shakuhang one came upon a middle-class home. Entering the gate, one faced a green painted screen which shut out the view of the interior from the passers-by. Behind the screen, a medium-sized house with its courtyards appeared. Somewhere near the house stood a tall pear tree, and there were ajx>nd and a vegetable patch. In the litde family garden there was a great variety of flower and fruit trees, while outside the wall stood a grove of hundreds of bamboo trees. It was the year 1036, thirty years before the Battle of Hastings. On December the nineteenth, a baby boy was crying and kicking in his swaddling clothes. Since the first son had died in infancy, he was the eldest son of the family. And here, as the baby was doing nothing in particular or doing what every baby does, we may take time to look around at the family. But first something must be said about this birth- day, lest we but add to a certain confusion plaguing Chinese biographies .abroad. A Chinese baby is "one year old" the moment he is born, following the general pattern of everyone's desiring to reach venerable age as quickly as possible. On the next New Year's Day, when all people advance their age one year, he is "two years old". According to the Chinese reckoning, therefore, as compared with Western reckon- ing, a person always counts himself two years older before his birthday ap.d one year older after that date in any given year. In this book, ages are given according to the Western reckoning, without taking into con- sideration a person's exact birthday. In the case of Su Tungpo, how- ever, a little more exactness is required. As he was "one year old" the day he was born, on December nineteenth, he would be "two years old" already on the following New Year's Day—when he was hardly two weeks old, actually. As his birthday came toward the very end of the year, he was actually always two years younger than he would be according to the Chinese reckoning. The second thing to be said about the birthday is that he was born under Scorpio. According to the poet himself, this explains why he ran into so many troubles all his life and was a target of rumours, both good and bad, which he did not deserve—a fate similar to that of Han Yu, who was born under the same star, and who was also sentenced to exile for his opinions.